Badgers tailback hungry for more carries

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McClatchy Tribune
Friday, August 14, 2009
— John Clay acknowledges he remains hungry.

First is his affinity for mom’s cooking back home in Racine.

His favorite dish?

“Anything,” the University of Wisconsin’s third-year sophomore tailback said after practice earlier this week. “I don’t get too many home-cooked meals.”

Second is his desire to handle the bulk of the workload among Wisconsin’s tailbacks in 2009.

“If I’m going good and the coaches want to keep feeding me the ball,” Clay, an all-state performer at Racine Park High School, said, “I’m ready and willing to keep carrying the rock for the team.”

Playing behind P.J. Hill last season, Clay averaged a modest 11.9 carries per game (155 in 13 games) but generated 884 yards and nine touchdowns.

Despite Hill’s early departure to the National Football League, the UW staff believes the tailback depth is sufficient to ensure Clay’s total number of carries remains manageable.

No matter what that number turns out to be, Clay appears in better physical condition than he was as a sophomore.

According to running backs coach John Settle, Clay’s weight reached at least 250 pounds last season. Clay is listed at 6-foot-2 and 247 pounds. When he met with reporters earlier this week for the first time since preseason camp began on Monday, he appeared leaner than last season.

Ben Herbert, in his first season in charge of UW’s strength and conditioning program, said Clay’s percentage of body fat has dropped to 15 percent from 19 1/2 percent during the winter.

“I don’t get so caught up in what that number says,” Herbert said, referring to Clay’s weight. “That number is important, but you have to understand he just physically is a big, strong kid.

“He has some to (lose) but he is not sloppy. His frame is solid.”

Herbert put Clay through extra workouts during the team’s summer workouts, which spanned about 52 weeks.

Those workouts included hours of aerobic work in the pool.

“In terms of cumulative stress over the course of time … I can find other ways to take the stress of his lower body,” Herbert said. “Just getting him additional work but keeping him fresh at the same time.”

The players are scheduled to practice in full pads for the first time today, but Clay reports his sometimes tender ankles feel fine and his endurance is improved.

“This summer I was off my (feet) a lot, just getting rest,” he said, referring to the times he wasn’t training. “When I got that rest, I felt 100 percent. I haven’t had any problems. I’m cutting good and every time I plant I don’t feel no pain.

“I feel good. I finish all the drills. I’m in condition. I have no problem.”

He insists he avoided potential problems, and temptation, when he went home after summer conditioning and before the opening camp.

“I told my mom, the week before camp, they can’t be barbecuing and grilling out,” Clay said. “She went on a diet with me. Everybody ate healthy when I was home for that week.”

Herbert, a lean linebacker/defensive end during his playing days at UW, likes to hear that attitude.

“That’s something that is still a work in progress,” he said of Clay’s nutritional habits. “That’s something that doesn’t come easy to anyone. The biggest thing is that he has been making strides and it has become a priority for him.”

So, too, it appears is Clay’s desire to feel more at ease with the entire offensive package. That was an issue last season when, Settle acknowledged, Clay was comfortable with about half the playbook.

“Never go a day without asking questions,” Clay said in discussing his goals for 2009. “Making sure I’m never too comfortable.”

Remember when Clay stated he hoped to play at about 235 pounds in 2009? He laughs about that number now, says it is in the rear-view mirror and that he is comfortable at his current weight.

“I’m not trying to starve myself to get at that weight,” he said. “My coaches say I look good. My strength coach said I’m looking good.

“I’m still explosive. If they say it and I feel it, I have no problem with this weight.”

Last updated: 11:10 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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